Why the Future of Insurance is the Colour Purple?

A speaker at an InsureTech conference recently bamboozled delegates with a stirring speech about the benefits of hiring “purple people.” These “purples” will deliver innovation to enable digital transformation he explained. Cue uneasy shuffling in seats as the assembled delegates turned to their mobile phones to find out what was on the conference lunch menu that day!

His point though was that new insurance technologies and applications delivered by purple power drive efficiencies and improve productivity. So who is this new breed of purple person? In a nutshell they are people who understand both insurance and technology. They are not “red” insurance people or “blue” tech people. In other words, they are a 21st Century hybrid. So why do COOs and CIOs need to understand this concept?

In this brave new world, Managing General Agent start-ups are exploring InsureTech solution to develop and evolve their business. Costs are big concern. These organisations often need bespoke solutions, however, they need the right people, processes and technology in place to drive development. Training has a vital role to play in this process. Technology related insurance challenges, around where data is stored in a multi-global carrier meanwhile, are also rising up the Boardroom agenda. Purple people will be the most employable people going forward.

They will be the new norm. Coders will be in demand revolutionising insurance businesses so a new mind-set will be required. When I take 18-year old interns around Lloyd’s they laugh when they see suited and booted broker types in grey suits shipping 3kg slipcases to their underwriters. There are still too many vested interests in this market, however, so it’s going to take a big cultural transformation to turn this 350 year-old ship around.

These purple people will be able to adapt even if the the principles and foundations of 350 years of Lloyd’s are not going to change without a fight. Let’s face it though, the settlement of an insurance contract is the same now as it was then but the complex societal changes, we are currently experiencing will inevitably be disruptive. Technology, people, process – this is the future.

“Cognitive insurance technologies will change the way we operate as a business so modern day COOs take note. Purple people with their highly employable mix of business and technology skills have a major role to play going forward.”

I believe that the concept of “purple people” was first propagated in a 2010 blog post by Wayne Eckerson. According to Eckerson: “purple people possess a mix of business and technology skills that enable them to excel in business intelligence and analytics. A similar notion arose, independently, at insurance company XL Catlin (now AXA XL, of course). Jim Wilson, a lead data engineer at the company, was chatting with his boss, Kimberly Holmes, about a problem that plagued the company’s “strategic analytics” group. According to Holmes, Wilson used the “purple people” analogy to describe a particular problem.”

“The business people, the actuaries, know what data they need and can define requirements but typically don’t have the skill set to design a data architecture that gives them the data they need. Technology people typically don’t understand the business requirements, but they can design the data architectures. It’s like the people in IT speak blue, the people in business speak red, but we need people who speak purple in order to create an appropriate solution.”

According to this philosophy, purple people can translate the needs of the business for data and analytical systems into the high-level designs for those systems. They really are speaking a new language.

These are people who can step in and help to create, monitor, and modify cognitive systems within organizations. They can bridge the business and organizational requirements with new technology solutions. They are people who love technology. They are even passionate about it, and certainly not intimidated by automated systems.

In order to succeed in a market like Lloyd’s, however, today’s future COOs and CEOs will need to operate at the intersection of the technology and the business needs. This is going to require huge cultural change. It doesn’t mean that everyone is going to have to learn how to code. It does mean though that insurance people of the future are going to have the knowledge to have an intelligent conversation with a coder or API developer.

It’s still not too late of course for current market incumbents to retrain or learn new skills. I’m sure that a few older insurance dogs out there can learn new tricks. Certainly, as someone who has walked the streets of EC3 for more years than I care to remember it would be foolish for me to claim that I am a technology boffin, but I know plenty of people who are. Today’s COOs need to surround themselves with these talented and clever people because we are at inflection point in our market’s history.

Forget Blockchain and advanced A.I., for now. Not because these things are not important and potentially transformative. They can and will shape the world of insurance. I just believe that we have plenty of current, practical technologies such as DA SATS, PPL, ECF2 Write Back claims, SDC and Lloyd’s Bridge and many others all being drive by the efforts and solutions offered through LM TOM or at the side of the market where competing platforms are emerging that require purple expertise to deliver cost effective operational change today.

Business, underwriting, claims and technology skills are valuable in themselves, but are far more valuable when integrated and combined. So just remember you heard it here first, the future is purple!